28 March 2012
Garvan’s Professor Susan Clark has received the highly acclaimed annual Rotary Award for Vocational Excellence in recognition of her major international contributions to the development of the field of ‘epigenetics’.
Epigenetics is a branch of research that seeks to understand changes that occur in the function of genes without a change in the genome sequence. It concerns itself with the multitude of chemical interactions that modify DNA and determine how it is packaged in the cell. The importance of epigenetics is now widely recognised since the genome sequencing project ten years ago revealed that not all the information about gene control is encoded in the DNA sequence.
Rotary Awards for Vocational Excellence each year go to people from many walks of life. Former recipients have included: Professor Fred Watson (astronomer), Professor Tony Basten (Immunologist), Ruth Cracknell (actress), Father Leo Donnelly (catholic priest), Professor Ross Sheil (transplantation surgeon) and Dr Ray Hare (agronomist).
After graduating with a PhD in Biochemistry in 1982, Professor Clark spent many years in the Biotechnology Industry initiating and leading the laboratory development of the first recombinant vaccine in Australia still used to today to prevent diarrhea in pigs.
During the early 1990s, she carried out pioneering work on the development of bisulphite sequencing technology to enable the detection of DNA methylation of every cytosine base in DNA. Over the past 20 years she and the epigenetics field have used this technique to understand the role of DNA methylation (a key epigenetic process) in gene regulation. Bisulphite sequencing technology has revolutionised and now underpins a new era in epigenomic research.
Her studies over the last twenty years have addressed profound questions about the importance of epigenetics in early development and in disease, especially in cancer. Susan has made extensive ground-breaking discoveries relating to DNA methylation patterns in normal and cancer genomes, that have led to new tests for early prostate cancer detection. She is founding president of the Australian Epigenetic Alliance and inaugural member of the International Human Epigenome Task Force, which aims to map 1000 normal human epigenomes over the next 10 years.